Defense picks up slack in exhibition games

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By Jason Grodsky

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With many questions still unanswered about the Illinois basketball team – who will redshirt, who will be the team’s shooting guard and who will back up junior Chester Frazier at the point – the Illini have turned to their defense in the first two exhibition games to buy time to find the answers to all the questions.

Illinois has forced 39 turnovers in its two exhibition games, 19 against Quincy and 20 in Tuesday night’s 76-39 victory over Kentucky Wesleyan.

The Illini have forced their two exhibition opponents to shooting 31.2 percent from the field and have accumulated 15 steals and eight blocks in the two games.

“We had some nice stretches defensively from different units out there,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “We did catch them off a long trip and started out with a storm at the beginning. We’re not going to shut anyone out by any means, but we need to keep the intensity level up on defense.”

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    Illinois held opponents to 40.2 percent shooting and forced 14.7 turnovers per game during last season.

    The team will have to rely on its defense until it figures out who the primary scorers will be this season, especially after two of last year’s top scorers graduated.

    Senior forward Brian Randle attributes the solid defensive play to the team’s point guard, Frazier, whom Randle called a pest and catalyst of the Illini on the defensive end.

    “(Chester) has the ability to take over a game, especially defensively,” Randle said. “There aren’t too many point guards out there who are as quick and as fast in the half court as him, he’s just a pest and never slows down.”

    Meacham, Holdren stepping into shooting guard role

    The battle for the Illini’s shooting guard position is heating up between two former high school teammates.

    Prior to the team’s two exhibition games against Quincy and Kentucky Wesleyan, head coach Bruce Weber told juniors Trent Meacham and Steve Holdren that the job would be theirs to lose.

    After Tuesday night’s contest against the Panthers, it looked as if neither wanted to take a backseat to the other.

    “I’ve really been a point guard my whole life, but playing without the ball in my hands takes a lot of pressure off of me,” Meacham said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help the team. I think I can do some good work playing at the wing,” he added.

    Meacham led the Illini in scoring with 12 points, but it was Holdren who was on the floor with the Illini veterans to start the second half.

    Holdren, in his first year on the court for the Illini after sitting out last year following his transfer from South Dakota State, finished the game with three points on 1-of-4 shooting.

    “Steve played as hard as he has all year on defense and really got into the flow of things,” Weber said.

    Frazier, Randle bounce back from last game’s injuries

    After sitting out the team’s Orange and Blue Scrimmage and first exhibition game against Quincy, junior point guard Chester Frazier was back in uniform for the Illini.

    The Baltimore native started the game at point guard, playing 12 minutes while nursing his sprained left thumb.

    Frazier tied for the team lead in assists on the night with three and led the team in steals with two.

    Randle also looked to be back to 100 percent after bruising his knee in the Illini’s exhibition against the Quincy Hawks last week. Randle played 15 minutes and scored eight points and grabbed two rebounds for the Illini.

    “It felt good to run easy,” Randle said. “For me getting up and down the court isn’t usually a problem, but after the stuff I went through last year with all the bumps and bruises it’s a lot of fun.”